If You’re Serious About Starting a Dialogue On Race, Talk To White People – Not At Them

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I made it through the entire 2016 electoral cycle without writing a single article on race.

I wrote nothing on Trayvon and Zimmerman, Ferguson, Baltimore, Black Lives Matter, or the KKK celebrating Trump’s election. I managed to avoid being targeted online by either BLM racists or alt-right “race realists” as I tried to navigate the turbulent waters of the most contentious election in recent memory.

But the streak dies today, because after reading Rev. Derrick Keith Rollins Jr.’s article titled “What white people should do about systemic racism,” I realized we need to turn this decades-old race monologue into a dialogue.

As a whiter-than-white, I-sunburn-at-night kind of caucasian, I feel utterly qualified to accept Rev. Rollins’ invitation to talk race.

And I’d like to start by pointing out that a piece with a condescending and finger-wagging title like “What white people should do about systemic racism” isn’t a great way to start that discussion.

Ditto MTV’s shockingly bigoted “New Years Resolutions for White Guys.”

If you sincerely want to start a productive conversation with white America about race, consider kicking it off without the condescension and accusation that only ever gets excused when it’s aimed at whites.

If that’s a reasonable prerequisite, let’s dive in.

First of all, contrary to Rollins’ assertion, I don’t think America avoids talking about race at all. I think we’re obsessed with it.  In fact, this constant immersion in the skin-deep is why I’ve avoided writing on it thus far.

Diversity has become a rubber yardstick by which everything must be measured,

government programs target minorities for special treatment, and armies of internet social justice warriors (SJWs) speculate on the race of each new shooter or bomber before the facts of the case are even released.

Race recognition events dot the calendar, and every new TV show or Hollywood film has an unwritten race quotient so predictable that it calls the meaning of the word “diversity” into question.

So no, I can’t agree that we don’t talk about race enough. I think the problem has more to do with the fact that only one side ever gets the microphone.

So in the interest of having a real dialogue, here are a few tips for anyone interested in talking to white people, rather than at us.

Stop judging our motives.

Whites in America have been subjected to the Rollins narrative for years.  We are consistently told that we enjoy a privilege we’re unaware of, and harbor a racism we don’t acknowledge.

We’re told we are to blame for everything from poverty, to incarceration rates, to a Trump presidency.

We’re told that whites moved to the cities to get away from minorities, then moved back to the cities to displace minorities, and are now moving to the country to escape again.

Overall, we’re just told why we do things an awful lot – which is presumptuous and downright rude.

If you want to talk about race, let us speak for ourselves, rather than being told who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

SJWs play fast and loose with definitions because flexible words tilt the conversation to the definer. As long as racism is a fluid term possessed exclusively by liberal America and wielded as a weapon against whites, there can’t be a meaningful dialogue on race.

But racism has a very specific and concrete meaning, and in order for us to be on the same page, we need to establish our terms. Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

Conspicuously absent from this definition are things like stereotyping and generalization, as well as the notion that such a belief can only be held by the majority race.

See racism is entirely about belief.  It’s a backward ideology that drives ignorant people in search of some “other” to blame their problems on. Remove the belief, and regardless of the complexion of your metrics, the term “racism” is misapplied.

It’s not racist to observe that Asians tend to have a higher IQ than whites unless you’re suggesting that Asians have a higher IQ because they are Asian.

It’s not racist to run a business staffed entirely by whites unless your business has a policy of hiring only whites because they are white.

Sure, it’s possible that if your business hires a racially homogeneous staff, it’s because your management is actually, truly, honest-to-god, Stephen A. Douglas-style racist.

But it’s also possible that your management believes race has nothing to do with talent or experience, and therefore felt no obligation to run around town with a spectrophotometer to before filling open positions with the individuals they felt were most qualified.

And here’s the important part: that judgement call is not yours, or mine, or government’s, or society’s to make.

This distinction is critical. Whites are tired of having our motives judged, and being told we are racists when we don’t agree with whatever policy preference or social expectation the left is touting at the moment.

Stop conflating racial outcome with racial intent.

Normal, non-racist whites are sick of people pointing to racial outcomes to show racial intent.

It’s not just rude, it’s bad logic.

Allow me to mansplain.

If Congress passes a polka tax tomorrow, it will disproportionately affect whites of European descent.  But that doesn’t make it a racist law.  The law addresses a behavior, not a race – the percentage of each race chooses to participate in that behavior at a given time is irrelevant.

If you want an example of true racism in government, look at discriminatory policies like affirmative action that assume prejudice and hold businesses hostage to arbitrary quotas without regard to qualification, cost, or market.

If you’re a white kid in a white town, getting an entry-level job is going to be tricky if you have to compete with a black kid, simply because he or she is black.

That’s racist.

When poor, rural white kids apply for college grants and get turned down because their parents are white, that’s racist.

When “hate crime” laws give harsher sentences to one murderer than another because one killed for skin color and the other for hair color, that’s racist.

Treat people as individuals, not groups.

“Check your privilege.”

The phrase is a spiteful and condescending declaration that someone isn’t capable of empathy or understanding because they don’t share a given experience.  It’s intended to give leverage to the speaker and discredit the respondent, all in one fell swoop.

And it’s thrown at white people as a matter of course.

It assumes, it divides, it destroys empathy and stirs bitterness, and it’s a generalization that ignores history and sweeps individuality aside with utter disregard.

Ironically, in turning privilege into a slur, the phrase turns victimhood into its own form of privilege.

If you want an honest dialogue about race, start by acknowledging that individuals are made up of advantages and disadvantages, triumph and adversity, that make our experiences unique regardless of race.

Just as I don’t know what it’s like to be a black pastor, Rev. Rollins doesn’t know what it’s like to be a broke white construction worker – and that’s great, because it forces us both to be humble and listen before jumping to conclusions about what privilege the other person enjoys.

Stop telling us about our privilege and listen to our stories – you might find they look a lot like your own.

And that’s what this whole race dialogue is about. It’s not about red and yellow, black and white, but about collectivism versus individualism – whether we will regard persons as unique and valuable, or whether we will tag them with a color and throw them into a bucket full of people they may have nothing but skin in common with.

I want to toast Rev. Rollins’ closing quote from Dr. King, by offering another quote from another Doctor noted for his passionate defense of civil liberties – Dr. Ron Paul.

“By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism. Their obsession with racial group identity is inherently racist…we should understand that racism will endure until we stop thinking in terms of groups and begin thinking in terms of individual liberty.”

Joel Kurtinitis is a columnist for the Des Moines Register, contributing editor for The Liberty Conservative, and a branded contributor to the Blaze. Joel was a Regional Director for Ron Paul 2012 and served on the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa. He co-founded Liberty Iowa in the wake of the Paul campaign, and organized the Free DC Project during the government shutdown of 2013. When not busy setting the virtual world aflame with controversy, Joel is actually an okay guy who enjoys reading, cooking, chess, bluegrass music, and an occasional foray into fiction writing. Joel and his family live in Perry, IA.

  • Katlyn Stigall

    I really liked this article, the one problem I had was the last phrase, and if you have time I would greatly appreciate your idea on the subject. I firmly do agree that we need individual liberty, but wouldn’t the statement you made be more an idea of Utopia that in general, will most likely never exist. We have become this society that is like you said, so obsessed with race an diversity, but your idea seems illogical to me. Humans natural instinct is to survive, and because of these racial divides I believe that we are trying to protect are own, unfortunately.

  • Matt Mulder

    Thanks for this article – your perspective is a valuable one. I recently attended a “Courageous Conversations on Race” program in Boston and, being white, found that my voice was actually very enthusiastically welcomed by attendees of all races – most of whom could probably be called social justice warriors. While the internet as an anonymous blob may be quick to shout down people with less popular points of view, I think people are less likely to do so in more intimate conversations. So I would encourage you to seek those out, as I would guess that both you and whatever social justice warriors you may engage personally and directly would both be likely to learn a lot from each other.

    It seems that the heart of your criticism here is that the term “racism” is overapplied and misapplied. While that may be so, it seems to me that the heart of what most people working for racial justice are advocating for is a thorough and unflinching examination of racial outcomes. If a polka tax end up being a de facto tax on Polish Americans, isn’t is worth considering whether such a tax is just (whether or not the language of the tax itself is “racist”)? Similarly, if the criminal justice system results in African Americans being disproportionately incarcerated (I think we can and should debate this point), isn’t it worth considering whether or not the criminal justice system is in fact just?

    As far as your negative reaction to the term “white privilege,” I disagree with you and actually find it can be a useful phenomenon to consider. If you think of privilege as simply the opposite of prejudice (being the beneficiary rather than the victim of policies that privileged one race over another), it seems apparent that white people have in the past and continue to reap the benefits of laws and other extralegal practices meant to restrict or oppress other races. The existence of prejudice doesn’t mean that no black people can succeed, just as the existence of privilege doesn’t mean that all white people will, but examining each of those phenomena can lead to useful insights into where we are as a society and how we might build a more just society.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

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